Do you remember her, that strident, snoopy busybody who lived across the street from Darren and Samantha Stevens on the old TV show, Bewitched? She shrieked at her poor, long-suffering ol’ hubs, Abner, reporting every tidbit of odd goings-on, then likely as not, she’d go snoop in the Stevens’ mailbox, or kitchen, or hall closet.
They call me Gladys Kravits. “They” being my husband and daughters. Why? Because I notice what happens in our neighborhood. I observe. I speculate. Sometimes I call the police. (Like at 4 a.m. when prowlers were snooping around the beauty salon next door.) A year or so ago, I watched while police raided the house across the street. They strung up crime scene tape then brought in cadaver dogs. In fact, I’ve seen more people arrested out of that one house in a few months than I’d seen in my whole life. Thank God the landlord finally stopped renting his rather new, perfectly nice house to meth-heads. Maybe he got tired, cleaning and repairing his property every time the newest tenant got hauled off the pokey. . . about every two or three months.
Being called Gladys Kravits is an insult. She was a nosy, shrill, and intrusive neighbor who caused problems and created strife. I do not go into my neighbor’s yard and peek in their windows or sneak into their homes. When I’m invited into their homes, I do not pilfer in their cupboards and closets or ask inappropriate questions. I’m not nosy. I’m curious.
I admit to eavesdropping at restaurants or gatherings. I’ve garnered some great dialog and tidbits for stories doing that. I also people-watch and study body language. I speculate, speculate, speculate. I might want to know what peculiar thing that is you have on your front lawn, or where your ancestors came from, or why you hate your job, or why you’re afraid of spiders, or if twins run in your family or where you bought your car. I’d probably ask you these things given the opportunity. Does that make me nosy? No, I’m curious.
I might like to know (but would never ask) any of the following: what is that peculiar thing you have on your nose, why have you been married four times, do you color your hair, how much did you pay for that new car and why did you buy it when you complain about how little money you have, and why did you name your baby girl after a city in Texas? (Fort Worth seems like such a strange name for a little girl) Don’t worry. I won’t ask. How many times must I say it: I’m curious, not nosy.
Nosiness has no boundaries; it seeks to judge and condemn. It can create shame and resentment. There is nothing positive to be gained from being nosy. If you are a writer, you need to be curious, always. Curiosity sparks imagination. It leads to investigation and discovery. It prompts “what-ifs” and eventually shapes a story that keeps readers turning the pages.
If you’ve done a good job priming reader curiosity, and if you offer them a satisfying end of the story, they’ll eagerly await your next book, curious as to what new tale you will unfold for them.